My first ever derby - Beyond expectations
Being born and brought up in Delhi, I hadn’t seen any professional club football, since there was no team based in Delhi. Being an ardent football fan, I had heard a lot about clubs like Mohun Bagan, Dempo and East Bengal and even the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal rivalry.
I had never thought I would witness a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal Derby. But fate had a different script and I got admission in a college in Kolkata for Sports Management, which I had decided to pursue out of my passion. I started with my course in the month of July and gradually started making friends, a lot of whom were localites. I personally am always in for exploring new extravaganzas and when asked, the localites used to reply with the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal Derby as one thing you cannot afford to miss on your visit to Kolkata.
Soon the I-League schedule was out and we all reserved the 9th of December for the derby. Days and months passed by and the day of the derby was near. We were getting itchy about the tickets and which stand we should buy, considering we weren’t ardent supporters of any of the club. But what little football of both I had seen, I went in for East Bengal, hoping it would be a wise choice.
I took a bus and reached the stadium and was astonished to see the amount of spectators. A friend guiding me told me this was just the trailer; the movie would be played inside.
As I was waiting for a friend to join, I witnessed a host of trucks and tempos with supporters singing songs, flying their flags high and even we couldn’t hold back ourselves and joined.
In the queue, we saw some Englishmen and me, who was witnessing anything like this for the first time, was tempted to enquire about the derbies back in the UK., the most followed football in the World. Even those guys were mesmerized seeing the ambience and claimed this was much bigger than all those English derbies, which got me all the more excited.
As soon as me and my friends entered the stadium, we went mad looking at how crazy fans can be. We were flabbergasted with the fact that the stadium eventually, before the start of the match, got filled to capacity. There were about 1,20,000 people to witness the feast at the Mecca of football in India.
Soon, the match started and everyone went berserk. Chants, dance and crackers were seen all around and we were left spellbound, but didn’t take much time to join. We had also been to Eden the day before and let me tell you, that wasn’t even close.
The game picked up its pace and as usual. There were foul plays and ugly tackles, which led to the eruption of the crowd.
It was in the 43rd minute of the game that the real drama started. East Bengal got a free kick and they converted it through a Harmanjot Khabra header, which sent the people in the East Bengal stands into a frenzy, including me. We shouted, danced and sang at the top of our voices, but what followed was like the black spot on the moon. The referee gave East Bengal a free kick for a cynical foul, which the Mohun Bagan players opposed, especially Odafa, who showed the referee his middle finger and also slightly pushed him back, for which he was shown a red card. But what followed was more unfortunate. A stupid spectator sent stones and missiles into the ground, probably directed towards the referee, but missed him and hit Mohun Bagan’s Nabi, who was then rushed into the ambulance and to the hospital. The police rushed into the Mohun Bagan stands and lathi-charged the supporters for their cynical acts which saw India’s finest talent at present critically injured. The match was stopped for about 10 minutes and when it resumed, the half time whistle blew at the kick of the ball.
If you think this is it, you are sadly mistaken. The real drama was yet to follow. Fifteen minutes of the half time were up and out came the home side, East Bengal. The crowd now awaited the visitors Mohun Bagan, but they showed no signs on the field. People on the ground failed to understand what was happening, so did we and hence, decided to text few of our friends watching it on TV. They told us Bagan have refused to take the field. Like everyone else present in the ground, we waited in anticipation to witness the full 90 minutes of the enthralling contest, but to our disappointment, the game was soon called off and East Bengal declared the winners. The East Bengal players then took a victory lap, thanking the supporters who had turned out in numbers, as usual to support their cause.
What happened next was cynical. The Mohun Bagan supporters took out flags of East Bengal and started burning them and the angry East Bengal supporters complaining to the Police, but the joy of a win was more than anything else and everyone rejoiced.
This is not it, there is more excitement left. We, while going back home, had the time of our life, travelling on a tempo, filled with supporters, shouting out loud on the roads of Kolkata and the bumpy ride became the most memorable one yet
The only disappointment at the end of the day remained the injury to Nabi. All Indians, including me, wish him a speedy recovery.
All in all an epic and unforgettable experience.
I may forget the first love of my life, but the first derby, No, Never!